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The Transfiguration of Jesus Christ

One of the most neglected topics by modern-day preachers is the Transfiguration of Jesus. The sermon topic seemingly pales by comparison to the grotesque beauty that is the Crucifixion story or the grandiose and powerful Easter narrative of the Resurrection. Even the Ascension - with its promise of Jesus' return - seems to receive more preaching attention than the Transfiguration. Perhaps the scarcity of sermons may be attributed to the difficulty in ascribing a relevant and personal application point - a necessary ingredient for all modern-day preaching given the expectations of Sunday congregants. I often wonder why it's seems lost on believers that the Bible is not about us but God. Why are the "redeemed" subject to such arrogance of thought? We're incidental to the Bible. Jesus attests to this very point,

"Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures." Luke 24:27

It's not just that Jesus is in the Scriptures...Jesus is the Scriptures (John 1:1-3). The Bible is all about Jesus and again, we're incidental to the story. He's the leading actor and we - if anything - supporting actors. We're even incidental to the gospel message. I know what you're thinking, "but what about John 3:16?" The gospel message has been co-opted by the redeemed. The gospel message is not just about salvation, it includes salvation, but it is greater than salvation. The pedestrian version of the gospel so commonly preached is generally devoid of the richness which is the gospel story. The gospel is good news because it is God's restoration plan and, since mankind is one element affected by sin, we too are to be restored, but we're not the only things being restored. Paul makes this point when he notes that "the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth..." (Rom 8:22). All of Creation is set right with Christ's rule as Watt's joyful Christmas hymn so rightly declares -"He comes to make His blessings flow as far as the curse is found..." In Christ's gospel, mankind is restored and the world is (eventually) restored, but these are not the only things restored either. In Christ, the order is restored. The Father's original plan is restored to its original design and intent. Let me explain.

In Matt.4, the Lord is taken to a "very high mountain" (remember that because we're coming back to this point) and is shown all the kingdoms of the world by the devil. The devil then makes this statement, "All these things I will give You, if You fall down and worship me." Did you ever wonder, who gave Satan the kingdoms of the world? The general response I get from Sunday school students is "the Father" but was it the Father? Where in Genesis - or for that matter - in the Bible do we see the Father handing the world over to Satan? The answer is not the Father. The answer is was me (vicariously speaking). Our forefather Adam gave his inheritance (to be the ruler of the world) over to the enemy when he assented to Satan as his King...Satan as his god. In this cosmic act of betrayal, our forefather - like Esau - despises what the Creator had kindly bestowed to mankind. The gospel's power restores this order. The last Adam (1Cor 15:45) takes back all the kingdoms of the world (Rev 11:15) and He receives the power of life (John 10:28, 17:2, 1Cor 15:45), the power of death (Rev 1:18), and even the power over Hell itself (Rev 1:18). Christ takes everything back and consolidates control - for it was never the Father's intent that angels should rule over the Earth (Gen 1:28). In Christ's gospel, the eternal and earthly order is restored.

So, what does all of this have to do with the Transfiguration? Everything! The Transfiguration is a pictorial summation of everything we've just discussed. Let's deconstruct the passage.

The Transfiguration story is captured by Mark, Matthew, and Luke each providing unique and essential elements of the event. In Matt. 16:28, Jesus notes the following:

"Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom."

This single verse has thrown so many into the proverbial rabbit hole especially when attempting to decipher its relationship to the Second Coming. The element of time is generally the focus of exegetes given the context's reference to end-time judgment (vs 27-28). The obvious interpretive difficulty is that this seemingly far-off event (His return) is coupled with the indication that some who were listening to Him would not "taste death" (die) until they saw His return. Dr. Ken Gentry, a notable and esteemed theologian, notes the following:

"It is true that his transfiguration is implied in this, for that is a dramatic exhibition to his disciples that he is the fulfillment of the law (Moses, Mark 9:4) and prophets (Elijah, Mark 9:4) and that he possesses the glory of God (Mark 9:3, 7). But this cannot be his referent, for he says that only “some” of them will not taste death until the event occurs. Thus, it must be farther off."

The struggle to reconcile this verse is challenging. However, is it possible that too many exegetes have fallen into a group think trap that prevents them from seeing a different point of view? Here's my take - for what it's worth.

When Jesus notes that there were some alive that would witness Him "coming in His kingdom", I do not believe that Jesus was saying that they would see Him descending to earth in final judgment. Instead, I believe what Jesus meant was that those who would witness the event would understand the nature of His Kingdom and His coming. In other words, the Transfiguration is a characterization of the reality that was to occur, not of His return, but His exaltation.

Immediately after this verse (Matt.16:28), we read in Matt 17:1 that six days later He took with Him Peter, James, and John to a "high mountain" (remember where Satan took Jesus to show Him the kingdoms of the world?). It is unclear which mountain this might be, but since it was a high mountain, many think that it might have been Mt. Hermon for it is the highest mountain in Israel (over 9,000 ft. in altitude) and it is in the vicinity where Peter had earlier declared (Matt 16:13) Jesus' Messiahship (His ministry of suffering). A few days later, He would reveal to Peter, James, and John - the ones who would not "taste death" - His ministry of glory and exaltation.

As they climbed this exceedingly tall mountain, the disciples are wearied by the trek and upon reaching their destination, fall asleep (Luke 9:32). Their falling asleep is a symbolic link - a link to another event, another mountain experience with Jesus, and another time when they'd fall asleep too except this time, instead of witnessing Jesus' glory, they'd witness Jesus' agony and suffering. That mountain was the Mount of Olives where the Savior would sweat blood. Incidentally, these two mountain experiences - Olivette and Transfiguration - characterize the grand motif of Scripture of suffering and glory (Luke 24:26). Mountains play a big part not just in biblical history but in ancient history as well. Sacred mountains represented the abode of the gods. They represented the seat of power and dominion.

While they slept, Jesus was transfigured with a brilliance so great that it might have awakened the disciples from their slumber. The Gospel authors put it this way:

  • "And He was transfigured before them; and His garments became radiant and exceedingly white, as no launderer on earth can whiten them" (Mark 9)

  • "And while He was praying, the appearance of His face became different, and His clothing became white and gleaming." (Luke 9)

  • "And He was transfigured before them; and His face shone like the sun, and His garments became as white as light." (Matt 17)

To their amazement, they not only find Jesus transfigured but He has company - Moses and Elijah. Dr. Gentry - in his quote above - rightly notes that in this event the fulfillment of the Law of Moses (as indicated by Moses and Elijah's presence) is displayed as well as Jesus' possession of God's glory, but it is much more. In the Transfiguration, Jesus illustrates:

  • His Lordship over the Earth

  • His enthronement amid the cherubim

  • His glory is the Shekinah glory of God


It is no coincidence that Jesus took his closest companions with Him. As I've already noted, He would do the same thing towards the end of His ministry when He would ask them to watch with Him in His favorite olive grove. Everything that Jesus did was intentional and meaningful. I believe that since the Transfiguration prefigures His exaltation to heaven (i.e. Rev 1.) and since His exaltation to heaven is as King of Kings and Lord of Lords (Rev. 5), then what Jesus was declaring was His triumph over Satan as ruler of the world. He seemingly mocks Satan by ascending a "high mountain" (perhaps even the same mountain where Satan noted the kingdoms as his) to demonstrate not only His glory and rule but to receive public affirmation of the same from the Father ("listen to Him!"). In an instant, this sacred mountain had become holy as YAHWEH was now present - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit ( the Spirit was upon the Son). Jesus would be the ruler of the world and all of the world was to listen and obey Him - as the Father exclaimed (Matt 17:5).


The presence of Moses and Elijah is fascinating! Indeed, these two ancient heroes of the faith represent the Old Testament in its abbreviated form (the Law and the Prophets). However, there's more to their presence with Jesus on the Mountain. To uncover their presence on this mountain, we must first do a little "digging".

During the Medo-Persian Empire, Zechariah the prophet was given a vision of the Temple. The prophet's vision was seemingly tested because he needed to be roused "as a man who is awakened from his sleep (Zech 4:1)" - an interesting parallel when we consider our sleeping friends on the mountain with Jesus. The angel queried Zechariah to see what the prophet was able to detect :

"He said to me, “What do you see?” And I said, “I see, and behold, a lampstand all of gold with its bowl on the top of it, and its seven lamps on it with seven spouts belonging to each of the lamps which are on the top of it; also two olive trees by it, one on the right side of the bowl and the other on its left side (Zech 4:2-3).”

The prophet was seeing the Temple's Menorah. Adjacent to the Menorah were two olive trees that fed - presumably - olive oil into the bowls of the lamp. But the prophet was confused about what he was seeing and kept asking the angel about these two olive trees which - I might add - would have been a bizarre sight - trees in the Temple.

"Then I said to him, “What are these two olive trees on the right of the lampstand and on its left?” And I answered the second time and said to him, “What are the two olive branches which are beside the two golden pipes, which empty the golden oil from themselves?” So he answered me, saying, “Do you not know what these are?” And I said, 'No, my lord.” Then he said, “These are the two anointed ones who are standing by the Lord of the whole earth.' "

According to the angel, the two olive trees represented two "anointed ones" who stand by the Lord. It doesn't take much imagination to recall that Moses and Elijah stood by Jesus -who is the Lord - at the Transfiguration. But I believe there's more biblical evidence to support my premise that there's correspondence between Zachariah's vision and the Transfiguration.

In Rev. 11, we read the following concerning the two witnesses of the Lord:

"And I will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for twelve hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth.” These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth...These have the power to shut up the sky, so that rain will not fall during the days of their prophesying; and they have power over the waters to turn them into blood, and to strike the earth with every plague, as often as they desire."

Revelation's two witnesses are identified as the same characters of Zech. 4 but we gain greater insight as to who these two figures are by what they're able to do: a.) they can stop the rain at will, b.) they can turn water into blood, and c.) they can cause plagues. Once again, it doesn't take much effort to remember that these powers are identical to those which God provided Elijah and Moses during their lives. James, speaking of Elijah, noted that he "...prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months (James 5:17)." And who can forget Moses' encounter with Pharaoh and the subsequent plagues that followed their encounter including turning the Nile into blood.

But why are they referred to as olive trees? I think there are two possibilities.

Firstly, olive trees produce olives which - in ancient times - were crushed and processed to produce oil. Oil was used ceremonially (to anoint), medicinally (to heal), and was used as fuel (to light lamps). This is why I believe Zechariah saw the trees adjacent to the Menorah. The trees were feeding oil to the bowls of the lamp and the fire produced light. So let's get some (figurative) insight. Since Moses and Elijah represent the OT (the Word of God) and represent olive trees, when fire (the Holy Spirit) is applied to the oil which the Word produces, light (righteousness) is generated! This is precisely what happened in Acts 2 during Pentecost. The disciples were filled with the word of God which Jesus had given them (John 17:6-8) and when the Spirit of God (tongues of fire) was poured out on them, they produced light ("Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart... So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls." - Acts 2).

One more point concerning olive oil. We find similar imagery in Jesus’ suffering at Gethsemane. At Gethsemane’s olive garden we find Jesus prayerfully sweating and bleeding as He agonizes to the “point of death” (Matthew 26:38) as He contemplates the weightiness of what was about to happen. The pressure and magnitude of the physical, emotional, and spiritual suffering He was about to experience caused His capillaries to rupture and mingle with His blood – a medical condition known as hematidrosis. Jesus’ intense suffering, at this moment and place (Gethsemane), is emblematic of an olive press crushing the precious olive fruit to produce oil for lighting (“the world” - John 8:12) and medicine for healing (“the nations” - Rev. 22:2). It is no wonder why He'd spend so much time on this mountain.

Secondly, when we consider the items in the Holy of Holies of Solomon's Temple, we find four cherubim. Two are obvious because they're fashioned on the lid (the mercy seat) of the Ark of the Covenant. But, there were two much larger images of cherubim that flanked the Ark of the Covenant. In 1Kings 6, we find the following:

"Also in the inner sanctuary he made two cherubim of olive wood, each ten cubits high. Five cubits was the one wing of the cherub and five cubits the other wing of the cherub; from the end of one wing to the end of the other wing were ten cubits. The other cherub was ten cubits; both the cherubim were of the same measure and the same form. The height of the one cherub was ten cubits, and so was the other cherub. He placed the cherubim in the midst of the inner house, and the wings of the cherubim were spread out, so that the wing of the one was touching the one wall, and the wing of the other cherub was touching the other wall. So their wings were touching each other in the center of the house. He also overlaid the cherubim with gold."

The cherubim were made of "olive wood" - olive trees. Two of them. And, where were they? Flanking the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies or, as Zechariah and Revelation's note and the Transfiguration showed - "standing in the presence of the Lord." This leads to my final point.


If the emblems of Moses and Elijah are these two cherubim in the Holy of Holies - flanking the Ark of the Covenant, then doesn't it follow that the Shekinah Glory - the emblem of God's Presence which shined between the two cherubim of the Ark's lid - is Christ? The Tyndale Bible dictionary thinks so:

"Paul also identifies Christ as the shekinah of God. All the fullness of the Godhead dwells in him bodily (Col 1:19; 2:9)....Paul’s message was the “gospel of the glory of Christ,” for God had caused light to shine to give “knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Cor 4:4–6, NIV). Finally, the writer of Hebrews sees Christ as “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being” (Heb 1:3, NIV)."

And this is why He shone so brightly on the Mount of Transfiguration. Moreover, it is this image of the Holy of Holies which the Transfiguration points to - Jesus was returning to the true Holy of Holies in heaven to sit on His throne. Jesus' glory sits atop of the Ark of the Covenant - another emblem of His person in that it contained:

  • The two tablets of the Law: Jesus is the Lawgiver (The Beatitudes of Matt. chapter 5-7)

  • Manna - the bread-like substance which fed God's people in the wilderness: Jesus is the Bread of Life (John 6:35)

  • Aaron's Staff - a wooden rod (dead) which blossomed and produced almonds (Num. 17): Jesus died and resurrected to life bearing the first fruits (1Cor 15:20,22)

This is why Jesus noted that Peter, James, and John would not die until they saw the "Son of Man coming in His Kingdom". The coming of the Son of Man - in the Transfiguration passages - was to be understood not as descension, but ascension - exaltation. In other words, the Transfiguration was a preview of Christ's enthronement in the Holy of Holies - God's throne room. Anglican theologian NT Wright in his book, Surprised by Hope notes the following concerning this point:

".…when Jesus speaks of “the son of man coming on the clouds,” he is talking not about the second coming but, in line with the Daniel 7 text he is quoting, about his vindication after suffering. The “coming” is an upward, not a downward, movement. In context, the key texts mean that though Jesus is going to his death, he will be vindicated by events that will take place afterward.”

Finally, Jesus instructed the Emmaus disciples that suffering precedes glory. Moreover, I've asserted that suffering and glory is the grand motif of Scripture. Therefore, it follows that if the Transfiguration is emblematic of His exaltation, then certainly we should be able to note an emblem of His suffering...and we do.

At the Resurrection, Mary was an eyewitness of a living "mercy seat". In John 20, John wrote the following:

"But Mary was standing outside the tomb weeping; and so, as she wept, she stooped and looked into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had been lying."

The imagery is clear and powerful. The tomb - an object of death - was transformed into an object of life and mercy! Jesus' tomb was a living mercy seat for the angels lived and more significantly, He lived! Like the Ark of the Covenant's mercy seat - two angels on either side with the "bloody" shroud of Jesus in the middle - the satisfaction of God's wrath in the true atonement for the sins of the believing penitent.




Gentry, K., PHD. (2019, March 08). DANIEL 7:13, Mark 9:1, and ESCHATOLOGY (4). Retrieved February 25, 2021, from

Elwell, Walter A., and Philip Wesley Comfort. Tyndale Bible dictionary 2001 : 1189. Print. Tyndale Reference Library.

Wright, N. T. Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church. New York: HarperOne, an Imprint of HaperCollinsPublishers, 2018. Print.


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